Mark Watches ‘Deep Space Nine’: S04E12 – Paradise Lost

In the twelfth episode of the fourth season of Deep Space Nine, I can barely fathom how far this show has come. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek. 

I can’t help but think back to my experience with Star Trek after “Paradise Lost.” The vast majority of the time, Starfleet has been portrayed as a force for good in the universe. Indeed, it had to be. Shows like The Original Series and The Next Generation focused on crews who acted as an extension of the organization. They’re the arm of Starfleet, and I don’t think those shows could have done the sort of critical work that Deep Space Nine is doing now. There were certainly episodes every so often about corrupt Starfleet officers, but they were often singular. That one officer would be taken care of, and Starfleet would go back to being a squeaky clean body meant to be admired and emulated.

While Admiral Leyton might represent a singular antagonist force in this arc, the writers for Deep Space Nine have composed a disaster that shows us how a whole system can be corrupted. It’s so much more terrifying because the Starfleet we see in this episode is broken, and it was broken on purpose. It’s fitting that I spoke of hopelessness in the last review because the first half of this episode is terrifying. At every step, Leyton and his followers demonstrate just how completely they’re controlling the situation. How can Sisko fight against Starfleet?

Let me start first with the Red Squad because WHAT A GODDAMN PLOT TWIST. I never once suspected that there was anything going on with them, and I still can’t get over how truly fucked up it is that Leyton used LITERAL TEENAGERS TO SABOTAGE THE ENTIRE WORLD’S POWER GRID IN ORDER TO GET WHAT HE WANTED. It is perhaps the greatest tantrum thrown by an adult in Star Trek history, and I’m including his behavior throughout this episode in that judgment. But what kills me and disturbs me the most is HOW MANY HUNDREDS UPON HUNDREDS OF STARFLEET OFFICERS GO ALONG WITH IT. That is so much more devastating than the actions of one man. How many other Starfleet officers gave in to paranoia? How many others assumed that Earth and the Federation would be better off if they were in control of everything? How many knew they were committing sabotage and treason and didn’t care?

It’s just so messed up, y’all. Leyton knows what he’s doing, too. Why else does he order the Red Squad hidden? Why else does he lie to Benteen about the Defiant? He hides the truth knowingly and consistently, and nothing demonstrates that more than when he has Sisko framed for being a Changeling. In short: Leyton is a coward, a man unable to deal with the ramifications of his actions, despite that he speaks with certainty in his voice and conviction in his actions. He’s such a despicable villain, but he’s also believable. He doesn’t feel like a caricature or a stereotype; he feels like half the people running my government.

Again, this episode has far-reaching implications that the writers couldn’t possibly have considered. This arc is painfully relevant to this very day. How much have we slipped into a this nightmare ourselves? How much does our own government resemble a fictionalized creation? IT IS SO CREEPY, ISN’T IT.

However, Deep Space Nine is not content with a moralistic tale about power and loyalty. Indeed, that is a huge part of “Paradise Lost,” and I’m not trying to ignore that. (HOW POWERFUL AND AWESOME IS SISKO’S SCENE IN LEYTON’S OFFICE? GOD, I LOVE ANGRY SPACE DAD.) The crux of this issue is whether Sisko is loyal to the Federation or to Leyton. Hell, I think an entire thesis could be written on how Leyton exploited the very same chain of command that he claimed was responsible for the honor and goodness of Starfleet. But there’s a big scene I’ve been ignoring here because it hopelessly complicates matters for everyone. I don’t disagree with what Sisko does in this episode, and I think he’s morally in the right.

Yet there’s a horrible complication in this story: the Changelings are on Earth. That unnerving sequence where a Changeling approaches Sisko as O’Brien makes this situation hopeless. If the Changelings had never been on Earth in the first place, this episode would have been neatly wrapped up in the end. Instead, the terrorist attack that started this in the first place is ignored and the Changelings get off scot-free; Leyton’s plan ends up being such a huge distraction that no one even bothers to find out who caused the bombing. Plus, THERE ARE STILL AN UNTOLD NUMBER OF CHANGELINGS IN HIDING ON THE PLANET. Is this just a matter of waiting until there’s an opportune time to seek them out? How can they even do that without propping up the same draconian measures as before?

I don’t have those answers, and neither does the episode. Most of this story is resolved, but the writers keep it open enough so that they can torment us with the unknown. THE CHANGELINGS ARE EVERYWHERE. Or are they???

The video for “Paradise Lost” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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